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American Cinematographer Magazine

Alien Quadrilogy: Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997)
2.35:1 and 1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1
20th Century Fox Home Video, $99.98

When 20th Century Fox released Alien Quadrilogy, another DVD box set featuring Alien and its offspring (Aliens, Alien3 and Alien Resurrection), consumers who had purchased the solid 1999 box set The Alien Legacy were justifiably upset. But a direct comparison of both sets reveals that there is still much to be seen in the velvet darkness of deep space from the points of view of four very different directors.

Set in outer space, where no one can hear the crew scream, Alien finds the intergalactic cargo vessel Nostromo being rerouted to a distant planet in response to a mysterious distress signal. Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) realizes too late that the signal was actually a warning. After visiting the planet, the crew falls prey to a nightmarish organism whose "structural perfection is matched only by its hostility," in the words of Nostromo scientist Ash (Ian Holm). Only Ripley survives.

The first of the set's gatefold box of nine discs contains both the original and the new director's cut of Alien, Ridley Scott's elegant, seminal thriller. With the exception of the "cocoon sequence," the director's cut has few jolting additions. Scott has deftly retooled certain sequences by trimming or extending them, or, in a few cases, adjusting their color timing. Cinematographer Derek Van Lint, BSC's legendary anamorphic work has only been enhanced by the new director's cut, with all the shadowy contrasts intact. Both versions of the film feel fresh and retain much of the mystique and shock value. Both picture transfers are exceptional, as are the audio tracks (available in both new 5.1 Dolby and DTS mixes). Though earlier home-video transfers were solid, this new platter is simply outstanding, offering a crisp, startling presentation of this genre classic.

Disc one also offers a choppy audio commentary by Scott, Weaver and too many other cast and crew members. Disc two offers an extensive package of featurettes entitled The Beast Within: The Making of Alien. This includes a seemingly endless archive of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, photos and other extras.

Disc three features two cuts of James Cameron's harrowing three-ring circus Aliens, shot by Adrian Biddle, BSC. In the film, Ripley awakens from 57 years of hyper-sleep and is asked to find some colonists who've gone missing on the planetoid where the alien was discovered. A reluctant Ripley and a band of Marines trek to the site and find the colonists either eviscerated by the creatures or cocooned to await fertilization.

This disc features Cameron's 154-minute director's cut, which was previously released on laserdisc and DVD, and the 137-minute theatrical-release version, which has not been available on DVD until now. The special edition is superior on a narrative level, but both versions offer consistently solid picture transfers of Biddle's icy work. However, there is no noticeable difference in picture quality between this transfer of the director's cut and the 1999 DVD transfer. The sound mix, however, has been bumped up to first class with a decidedly rangier 5.1 mix.

Disc three is rounded out by an informative commentary shared by Cameron and several cast and crew members. The extensive supplements for Aliens actually spill over to fill disc four; the soup-to-nuts package, entitled Superior Firepower: The Making of Aliens, includes an overwhelming amount of information and production history and features interviews with many cast and crew members.

Disc five presents David Fincher's somber and occasionally frustrating mood piece Alien3, which finds a shocked Ripley on a planet that's home to a lice-ridden penal colony. Unfortunately for the prisoners, Ripley's spacecraft was infected with an alien and a new organism has been spawned. With no weapons at their disposal, the men quickly fall prey to the creature's savagery.

Although rumors about Fincher's three-hour cut of Alien3 have flourished, no such cut apparently exists. What is presented alongside the 114-minute theatrical cut is a fascinating glimpse of what might have been: a 144-minute work print that features some storyboard sequences and occasional subtitles in lieu of missing dialogue. The story elements essentially match those of the theatrical version, but the expanded narrative allows more space for character development (though it tends to focus too much on the prisoners). The picture and sound transfer of the theatrical cut is very similar to that of the 1999 DVD, with cinematographer Alex Thomson, BSC's grim, industrial images sharply reproduced.

Also included on disc five are deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Thomson, film editor Terry Rawlings and other crew members, who shed interesting light on the difficult relationship between Fincher and Fox. Supplements for Alien3 run over to disc six and include The Making of Alien3, another incredible package that documents all aspects of production; its emphasis is on the origins of the story and some of the ill-conceived ideas that sparked disagreements between Fox and the filmmakers.

Disc seven presents Jean-Pierre Jeunet's free-wheeling Gothic pageant Alien Resurrection, which is set 200 years after Ripley's death. However, the company that deliberately put Ripley in jeopardy has succeeded in cloning her. It's a very different Ripley - part human and part alien.

The slick, colorful cinematography of Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC has a nightmarish, otherworldly quality that has been faithfully translated to DVD with this terrific, sharp new transfer. Included on this platter is a special-edition cut that adds a memorable opening sequence but otherwise rarely differs from the theatrical cut, as well as deleted scenes and an informative commentary by Jeunet and members of the cast and crew. Disc eight contains One Step Beyond: The Making of Alien Resurrection, which, like the other supplement packages, provides an exhaustive collection of interviews, facts and features.

Despite the wealth of material that precedes it, disc nine is this box set's crown jewel. Chock-full of dozens of theatrical trailers and ad campaigns for the films, it also features a new documentary on Alien, the Bob Burns Alien Collection stills, and the Dark Horse Alien Comics gallery. Included, too, are extensive script-to-screen DVD-ROM features and both of the "Laserdisc Archives" from the benchmark laserdisc releases of Alien and Aliens in the early 1990s. These incredibly extensive archives include hundreds of stills, lost footage and interviews, and go far beyond what most of this box set's new supplements achieve.

Given its staggering number of supplements and the generally improved picture transfers, Alien Quadrilogy is a must for serious fans of these films. The Alien Legacy was a commendable effort, but this box set offers the definitive presentation of this tragic saga and serves its doomed heroine quite well.

- Kenneth Sweeney

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.